Writing in the middle (NaNoWriMo update #2)

When I was doing doctoral work at UNT, my writing professor Barb Rodman once commented that I could write more story in to less space than anyone she’d seen in a long while.  “I’m always surprised when I finish a story and I look at the page count to see how short it is.  Your fiction feels longer than it winds up being.”  It wasn’t necessarily a compliment–she was trying to get me to expand my writing–but I took it as one and still do.  But it’s becoming a problem for me now, as I work on my NaNoWriMo novel.  I have a clear outline and know the things I need to get done in the book, and that outline has allowed me to become extraordinarily productive, which I love.  I’m currently wrapping up day four but my word count–11,544–is at day-seven levels, so in that sense I’m way ahead of the game.  Except I’m running out of story to write.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m moving through my outline faster than I’d thought, and today I realized I’d finished a third of the story I’ve set out to write.  That means I’m going to run out of novel before I hit 50,000 words–I’m actually writing a novella.

One solution, of course, is to simply over-write, to ramble on with as much verbosity as possible and try to fill out the last two-thirds with enough text to make the final word count.  And I intend to try that.  But I am taking this novel seriously and would like it to turn into something useable in the near future.  So I’m also thinking of writing it the way I’d normally write it: get through the outline, regardless the word count, and then go back and fill in gaps where I need to until I hit 50,000.  I already know of several significant gaps I need to fill with historical or regional information.  Technically, though, this is revising and therefore against the guidelines governing NaNoWriMo, but I don’t think it’s necessarily against the spirit of the challenge since I will only be adding, not cutting or changing text.  And this is what a novelist does, or this novelist anyway, so I now have a back-up plan.  I’ll write all I can to the end of the story and then I’ll just keep writing and sort of turn a blind eye to where in the story the new text appears.

That said, here are the first paragraphs I wrote yesterday and today, typos and all:

from day 3:

As dusk shadowed the brake and the sky glowed hot and gloomy like fired iron, as the cicadas set in and far off the frogs began a song, a spectral figure emerged hat and shoulders from the rippled surface of the backwaters. He carried a long walking stick with which he plumbed the path before him, and tied to the top of the stick hung a heavy black sack. He pushed his way through the weedy murk and emrged onto the damp ground of the brake dripping and naked save the wide black hat on his head. He leaned against the stick and felt carefully over his flesh in the last of red light, picked a few dangling leeches like mutant teats of blood from his wiry thighs and knotted buttocks, then he untied the sack which was in fact a preacher’s cassock looped over a heavy Bowie knife and rotting string of beads. He removed the hat and hung it float atop a clump of reed and he draped himself in the cassock, tied his waist with a rope and hung the beads from the front of the belt and slipped the knife into the rope to hang at his back. He donned the hat and inspecting first the sky and then the dark ground before him, he discerned some sense of direction and struck out through the unseen trails in the reeds. He meandered for some time, the night falling heavy around him till he could no longer distinguish the hem of his cassock from the black ground below it. His own hands seems to float in space like incorporeal spirits guiding him through the marsh. At last he pushed aside a stand of reeds like curtains and stepping into a small clearing of hard earth in the back of which nestled of burrow of reeds with a door. A drift of smoke rose less dark than the darkness around it in a thin cloud from a lifted hatch in the roof. He looked around the rest of the clearing but so no other markers and checked the sky for his bearings but could make out no stars for guidance. He bent low to the ground and laid his stick gently there, then slipped the knife from the rope behind him and crept up on the hovel.

from day 4:

Buford’s shack tilted in the reeds and listed one side half down a slope into the water. It had fallen off its thick cypress blocks. In the night it looked like some giant angular concoction of the marsh slinking back into the muck and water whence it had come. As he approached the side with his knife in his fist to peer in the one side window he still could reach he half-expected to find the blazing eyes of a rougarou leering back at him through the paneless frame, the hot wolfen breath through the dripping teeth the breath of the swamp itself. He saw nothing inside but smelled it nonetheless, though it was a form of death he’d known already these last few years and nothing supernatural about it. He slid down an embankment into water up his ankles and bent to prise open the door, had to wrench askew and climb over the corner of it just to enter. He crouched and waited for his eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness inside. He heard a scuttle of some creature and felt the matted grizzly fur of a muskrat scrape past his foot but he held his ground and waited still. When nothing else moved he reached into a fold and pocket he’d stitched into the cassock and popped a match with his thumbnail. The inside of the shack wavered in the yellow light like it was underwater, but nothing else moved. A wreck of moldering reeds in one corner, the scent of scat by the wall that cantered into the marsh. His lantern bent and glassless still hung on a nail by the door but it was drained and wickless, pilfered long ago. A pole warped along the far wall, some shards of crockery and some bones he’d collected in his youth and never saw fit to discard. Nothing else remained. His few utensils, his table and two chairs and his bedframe, his old cookstove, everything pillaged. The match expired on his thumbtip and he hissed. He shuffled into the corner where he’d remembered seeing the pile of reeds, popped another match and reached for the bent pole to poke among the damp wreck but nothing emerged save a few insects. He blew out the match and shook it to cool then pocketed the last of the stick, stirred the nest with the pole till he was satisfied whatever had called it home had now absconded, and then he kicked the reeds together into a loose mat and fell back on it to sleep. He lay instead for some hours just staring up into nothing.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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